The game of love: romance in video games

Cole Shoemaker ’20, Opinion Editor

The romance genre of video games is a strange one at the best of times. Many games simply have romantic subplots: some characters to woo, a selection of different endings depending on which character you focused on the most, and occasionally even marriage. Most games that BioWare has made showcase a plethora of romantic choices, such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age, but these are both are more likely to be considered action-role-playing-games. There are also games that are all about romance, and these are most commonly visual novels, an interactive game genre with a text-based story aided by static images of the characters and scenes.

The point is, many games involve romance in some way or another, but where is the line between a game with romantic elements, and a game that snugly fits into the romance genre completely?

BioWare is very well-known in the gaming community as that one developer that puts romance everywhere in their games. While it might not be in the forefront, it is certainly a very important aspect. In Mass Effect and Dragon Age, the connections the player makes with the non-player-characters (NPCs) actively change, alter, and influence the plot of the entire games—the plot of multiple games in the case of Mass Effect. The most important connection the player can make to one of the NPCs is with whom to form a romantic relationship. This decision is critical, and it can affect the outcome of the game far more drastically than one might initially imagine.

The romance in Mass Effect and Dragon Age is also fraught with strife. Frequently, the possible partners in these games are also the player’s traveling companions, the people risking life and limb for the same cause. This purpose seems to be twofold. First, if the player often fights with, depends on, and overall needs that character as a part of their team to achieve their goal, then it is far more likely that the player will form a connection with the character in question. The second purpose is a bit grim: both Mass Effect and Dragon Age have many character deaths, and if the one that dies is the one the player spent so much time with and developed a connection with, it only makes that character’s death all the more impactful.

Neither Mass Effect or Dragon Age are not considered to be romance games, at best romance is a subgenre to them, but then, where is the line drawn between romance as a subgenre and romance as a genre? Well, quite a lot.

As mentioned prior, the majority of games that are recognized as pure romance are in a visual novel style, a romance game consists mostly of some type of a chase. Romance as a subplot actually goes beyond this, with an actual relationship playing out between the player’s avatar and the NPC that is being courted. Actual romance games do not seem to go much further beyond the beginning of a relationship, since that is the only part the player would probably find entertaining.

Since video games are an interactive medium, the player needs to be engaged more so than with a show or movie. When it comes to romance as a subgenre, this is great. The player can pursue a relationship with an NPC and then still have the breathtaking adventure of a classic role-playing-game to look forward to, but when it comes to games that are just romance, then the only part that the developers or the players are most likely to find interesting or engaging would be the chase for love.

Despite the fact that it might seem backwards, if the player wants a longer more intriguing romance then they should head to a non-romance game with a romantic subgenre. But if all the player wants is the chase, then an actual romance genre game is more the speed they are looking for.

Photo courtesy of Origin

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